TU: Direct Care Workers Rally For Living Wage

NYAPRS Note: A coalition of New York organizations serving people with developmental disabilities is ramping up its campaign to get the Cuomo Administration to set aside money in the budget to subsidize higher wages for direct-support professionals. The coalition is asking the state to allocate $45 million per year over six years, which would be matched by federal funds. It would allow the agencies to pay a starting wage of $15.50 to $17.50 per hour.
The state said it is budgeting money to help these agencies cover the costs of raising the minimum wage, which will go up incrementally over several years, reaching $15 per hour downstate and $12.50 per hour in other parts of the state by 2021.

But the campaign insists that these increases are not sufficient to prevent high turnover among direct-support professionals and is trying to build momentum for the campaign with the hashtag #bFair2DirectCare.

NYAPRS and our colleague mental health advocacy groups are in strong support of this approach: stay tuned for more!

Direct Care Workers Rally For Living Wage
By Rick Karlin, Albany Times Union October 17, 2016

Hundreds of direct care workers, along with people they care for, rallied at the state Capitol earlier Monday to call for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allocate $45 million in the state budget for raises, which they say would at least keep these caregivers on par with fast food workers and big box employees.

These caregivers, who number more than 100,000 statewide, feed, clean, and generally help disabled New Yorkers with a variety of activities. They are the people who do the true ”heavy lifting,” in the human services field, said Michael Seereiter, President and CEO of the state Rehabilitation Association, which is one of several groups representing not-for-profit service agencies.

And despite the demands and training required for direct care, they are frequently paid just above minimum wage.

The fear is that, in light of the recently passed increase in the state’s minimum wage — which is set to hit $15-an-hour downstate and $12.50 by the end of 2020 — lots of care workers will simply head to easier jobs in retail or in fast food, where they already earn more than the $9 minimum.

Essentially, the workers, backed up by a phalanx of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, say they should get a bit more than the minimum, given the demands of their jobs and the need to try and prevent high turnover in these positions. They also note that the bulk of the money for direct care comes from taxpayers since it comes through the state and federal Medicaid and Medicare systems.

“I get up every day. I take a deep breath. I have cup of coffee,” said Betsy Fels, a Columbia County direct care worker for developmentally disabled adults. With pay of $9.57-an-hour, she says facilities like hers are chronically understaffed.

Lawmakers from across the Capital Region joined in the call for more money. They included Angelo Santabarbara, who has an autistic son, Jim Tedisco, Neil Breslin, Patricia Fahy, George Amedore, Steve McLaughlin and John McDonald.

Also attending the rally was former Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, who had long advocated for better funding for the disabled. He too, has a developmentally disabled child.

Rally participants cited a survey showing that competition from other employers has led to a 10 percent vacancy rate among centers for the disabled.

The state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities offered a statement, noting that the minimum wage increases will help many direct care workers who are at that level. And they agency is looking to build career ladders for those working at the state agency. The bulk of direct care, though, is carried out through not-for-profits. While they get state funding, their workers typically aren’t unionized like state workers at OPWDD and therefore earn considerably less.

Here is what OPWDD said:

New York State is deeply committed to maintaining a robust workforce that ensures the safe and effective delivery of services. Governor Cuomo’s recent minimum wage increase for all New Yorkers, which has been fully funded for FY 2016-2017 in the state budget, will increase pay for many direct support professionals across New York State. In addition, OPWDD is also aggressively exploring building career ladders and credential programs for direct support professionals, improving recruitment and retention efforts, promoting the disabilities field as a desirable employer, and improving job quality through training to help build a more stable and effective workforce and continue to provide high-quality supports for people with developmental disabilities.”